Uncovering the history of the fairy tale cottage at 121 West Boulevard North

History is messy. That’s why writing this piece, The Hansel and Gretel House, about the quaint cottage at 121 West Blvd., North, published in Missouri Life, was so much fun.

But what unusual things have you uncovered via historic homes?

Here’s what I recently learned about one house in Columbia, Missouri.

Often called the Fairy Tale Cottage or the Hansel and Gretel Cottage, many know the house hides a log cabin inside. In fact, many published reports say the log cabin was built in 1911 by its first owner, Arch McHarg, who felled the trees to build the home.

Turns out that’s pretty unlikely. The McHargs bought the lot from Charles Boyle Gordon in 1933. And prior to Gordon’s ownership, the entire plot now occupied by the house was in two sections and owned by completely different individuals. McHarg did, indeed, however transform the log cabin into the Tudor revival home it is today.

But that’s not the only thing missing from previous published reports. Another missing piece is Blanche McHarg, Arch’s wife. Other articles simply leave out her name entirely.

And in the telling of the story of the house, an important owner is often left out as well: Nadine Coleman. She and her husband lived there and added the gardens that make the home the memorable sight it is today. But just as important, Coleman wasn’t just a gardener, she was also one of the early women journalists and an author as well. Turns out she’s the namesake of the woman who resided in the Booneville mansion, Ravenswood. Her mother was widowed and in dire financial straits and had planned to let the mistress of Ravenswood adopt Nadine, but changed her mind and gave her child the woman’s name instead.

How do I know? Because Nadine Coleman wrote a book about it. But no previous reports about the house at 121 West Blvd., North have noted the former owner’s accomplishments. Until now.

That’s what makes historic homes so interesting, you’ll never know what you’ll learn from them.

What interesting facts have you learned from historic homes?

Does the April 2013 election bode well for J.W. “Blind” Boone home at 10 N. Fourth Street?

The election on Tuesday, April 2, could herald good news for the renovation of the J.W. “Blind” Boone home at 10 N. Fourth St. The voters re-elected Bob McDaniel as mayor of Columbia, put Karl Skala on City Council for the Third Ward and Ian Thomas on City Council for the Fourth Ward. All these candidates were called “Progressive-leaning,” in this article in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

McDavid has says he supports spending part of the city’s $1.9 million surplus to complete the renovation of this home, where J.W. Boone lived from 1889 until his death in 1927. A famous musician, Boone toured the country playing to black and white audiences, often traveling 10 months a year, playing six nights a week.

The house has been stabilized and the exterior renovated, the inside remains a shell. Remaining costs have been estimated in the area of $500,000.

On Dec. 3, 2012 KOMU.com reported the house project is slated to include a display with video, audio and interactive media and amphitheater, statue of Boone and a garden. The report states the J.W. Boone Heritage Foundation is donating $16,000 to the city for the project.

What do you think are the prospects for a complete renovation of the Boone home? What kind of facility would you like to see in this historic structure?

Three reasons to save the Blind Boone house

On voting day, the fate of the J.W. “Blind” Boone home at 10 N. Fourth St. could be decided. Newspaper articles have outlined Columbia City Council and mayoral candidates’ opinions and ideas about whether or how funds could be used to complete the restoration of the home. Public opinion comments for and against restoration have showed up in various public venues such as the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Trib Talk, with some comments edging on racism.

And yet, it is good to ask why the public might want to save and renovate the house. In many ways, it is ordinary. In some ways, it is odd, a house in a now commercial area, next to a church, the Second Baptist Church.

There are many reasons to save the home and here are three:

1. The house offers a story of courage and hope.

People are ephemeral. We live, we die, we can be forgotten. This could have been the case with J.W. “Blind” Boone, but the loss would have been a great loss in terms of role models, hope and courage. Yes, Boone was African-American. He was also American. He was the offspring of a U.S. Union soldier and an at-the-time war contraband, a slave. Despite his birth in 1864, subsequent illness that lead to the removal of his eyes and blindness, Boone went on to become a classical musician, composer and performer, traversing the nation for more than 40 years. As a new book on Boone, “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone,” notes, while many performers had to shuffle and play the clown during this time to be on stage, Boone went on stage throughout a segregated country, playing to crowds of all colors, wearing a tuxedo. Financially he was an astonishing success, the book notes, earning $3,600 to $14,375 a night in 2010 dollars for his performances.

2. The house highlights a story of entrepreneurship.

Yes, Boone was talented, but his talents were in danger of drifting into the seedy part of society until he came under the guidance and partnership of John Lange Jr. Lange’s story is also told in “Merit, Not Sympathy, Wins: The Life and Times of Blind Boone.” Briefly, Lange was the son of a former slave (who belonged to James Shannon, second president of the University of Missouri) and free French Creole. Lange Sr., was a successful businessman and his son went on to also succeed in business and operated Boone’s touring company as a business, complete with a manager, booking agents and advance men.

3. The house stands as a testimony to our racial past.

Why are there no other homes near the Boone home? The housing for African-Americans in the past was deplorable. A quote in the book about Boone quotes a 1911 newspaper article as saying the houses of African-Americans are often like sheds than houses. The area surrounding the Boone home was once Sharp’s End, the place where African-Americans lived, yet where few public services were offered. The same 1911 article notes that the area had no sidewalks and the streets were mud and stone. By the way, Boone lived in the house from 1889 until 1927 — and during 1923, when only five blocks from the house, James Scott was lynched in 1923, after he was accused of raping a white girl.

Of course, there are more than three reasons to save the house, but these offer food for thought.

What are your thoughts on the reasons to save the Blind Boone home?